Members of the Education City community explain how shifts in strategies and approaches amid a global pandemic kept people connected, produced positive outcomes, and raised optimism
Human nature has a tendency to develop, expand, and constantly find avenues that could lead to prosperity and self-achievement. It is demonstrated within social circles, whether by individuals or families, as well as in the business sector and institutions which work to serve society and aim to enhance people’s lives.
We had a vision for a digital transformation. It started about a year and a half before the pandemic hit, when we decided to develop an Education City brand
For Qatar Foundation, which brings multiple, integrated and intersected entities together under one umbrella to support Qatar’s community and vision, the COVID-19 pandemic was a gamechanger when it came to the strategies and procedures that guide its day-to-day activities and operations.
Speaking about the business improvements and action plans that were required from an organizational perspective, Zenon Isaac, Community Activation Manager within QF’s Community Development division, said: “The needs of the community have not changed, and our mission and role to help people stay connected had to continue even when the pandemic began, but the question was: how do we continue to fulfill this mission among these circumstances?
“Fortunately, in QF, we had a vision for a digital transformation. It started about a year and a half before the pandemic hit, when we decided to develop an Education City brand, social media accounts, and an Education City App, all of which were designed to bring people into Education City physically, and have now been launched. After the outbreak of the pandemic, it became a digital destination.
“it enabled us to continue to provide community classes, events, and activations which people can use to further their interests and explore their passion through the virtual world. What the pandemic has done is actually fast-forward the time within which we expected to reach our goals - the digital transformation achieved in a few weeks what might otherwise have taken 2-3 years.”
During the time of disruption and remote working, teams within QF also started looking at different business models to further enhance social connectivity in a time of physical distancing. Its Community Development team launched two online volunteering initiatives, Community Connections and Connecting For Care (CFC Project), to provide learning opportunities and support to QF community and beyond during the pandemic.
I never thought I would enjoy the experience of learning virtually to that extent
Community Connections was created as an internal platform which provides a person-to-person virtual volunteering, where volunteers from across QF provide a certain service to help those who are seeking to make use of their time by learning something new.
For Simon Jones, a Senior Event Outreach and Youth Specialist at QF, who had lived in Qatar since his childhood, he always wanted to learn native Qatari Arabic, but never had the chance, nor the convenience to do it. Community Connections finally made it possible for him.
“I never thought I would enjoy the experience of learning virtually to that extent,” he said. “It’s mainly due to the convenience, where two people easily arrange their times to meet virtually from the comfort of their homes for a learning experience.
“Another advantage of having a shared online space that directly connects volunteers and seekers, is that, it eliminates cultural barriers, with two people interacting without having to be physically in the same place.”.
With the emergence of COVID-19, people became more creative. We saw a lot of entrepreneurs step forward
The Community Connections initiative is expected to grow over the next phases, as QF is also looking to expand it to other partner organizations or governmental entities in Qatar.
Meanwhile, the Connecting for Care platform offers an interactive website - cfc.qa - that brings together volunteers and quarantined workers for friendly conversations and support in different languages to accommodate as much people as possible. The project was implemented in collaboration with the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), QF’s global healthcare initiative, Education Above All (EAA), the Ministry of Transport and Communication, and Modaris, which played a key role in the rapid creation of this platform amid the challenges posed by the pandemic. CFC currently has 7,322 users.
Another initiative led by QF’s Community Development team was an online community marketplace. “We believe that leaps of innovation stem from times of hardship,” said Isaac.
“With the emergence of COVID-19, people became more creative. We saw a lot of entrepreneurs step forward, creating small businesses to help them recuperate from the economic situation and also to support the society.
“In QF, we sought to extend our mission to support this community of entrepreneurs, so we created an online marketplace – a platform that offers them a virtual space to display their products. It includes electronic payments and contactless delivery, provides marketing support for their projects, and offers unique, handmade, eco-friendly goods for the community.
You have to be willing to change. Curricula are constantly changing, but you need to have a process so that people can participate in change
“it has been an ongoing learning journey since the start of the pandemic, and digital solutions offered us a world of ideas and mindsets, as well as strengthening the collaborative work within the teams. It’s a work model that we will continue to use in the future.”
As for the educational landscape within QF, Dr. Cesar O. Malave, Dean of Texas A&M University at Qatar, a QF partner university, outlined the steps that were executed to keep the university’s community connected after the pandemic struck.
“Our first priority was the safety of everyone in our community, and next we needed to make sure we could continue to provide a top engineering education for students and maintain the continuity of our research program,” said Dr. Malave.
“We asked our faculty to prepare for the possibility of teaching remotely. Before spring break, we asked our IT team to prepare documentation and tools on our e-learning technologies, and to provide training to our faculty and teaching staff, because we knew we were going to online teaching. Then we asked everyone to begin working remotely to keep our people safe. We made sure our faculty could teach from home and that our staff could continue to work from home, and that everyone had the resources to do what they needed to do.”
Dr. Malave also emphasized the role of the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning in helping reshape the remote teaching and learning, it hosted several workshops for faculty to exchange ideas and best practices — as well as allowing student feedback — to incorporate into their courses.
“We also asked our faculty members to make themselves more available to students through online office hours, as we understood how it is now more essential than ever for students to be able to communicate with their professors,” said Dr. Malave, who believes unprecedented events prove there are no absolute right or wrong answers, especially in the field of academia.
“You have to be willing to change. Curricula are constantly changing, but you need to have a process so that people can participate in change, because then they feel their voices have been heard. When you make a decision that affects people, they will be more upset if they feel their voices haven’t been heard. It’s about being transparent and having good processes in place to make and communicate decisions, and digital solutions made it possible to have even the most difficult conversations via virtual tools.”
“I try to listen and to consider every idea or concern, and then look into what’s being proposed. This approach has worked during the pandemic. We have perhaps become less rigid, and the bottom line is that things are getting done, and perhaps even more effectively and efficiently. I was concerned about losing the social part of coming to work, but this has not affected our productivity, and I have found this an interesting way to work.”
“I believe this is the future of higher education. There will still need to be face-to-face instruction, particularly in engineering and science fields, but students will continue to want remote and online options as well. We have learned to bring multimedia and technology into the classroom, and that’s something that should stay.”